Mae McKenna doesn't just sing songs she inhabits them. Her voice is a powerful and passionate instrument equally at home with Celtic traditional songs as much as original country/bluegrass flavored compositions. Hers is a voice both ancient and modern, attractive and beguiling yet full of soul and sensuality.
Mae McKenna's roots are strongly Irish and Scottish. She grew up in Coatbridge near Glasgow the youngest of three children with her brothers Hugh and John. Mae was raised in a house filled with music. Her parents and grandparents played music and songs from the variety theatre and the art songs of John McCormack to the classics of Frank Sinatra. At an early age she was exposed to jazz and classical music. At 14 she joined the Lanarkshire youth orchestra where she played viola. The sounds she heard at home included Art Tatum, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the Tamla Motown classics on the radio all embedded in her teenage brain.
Mae McKenna joined her first group ''Day'' in high school. She played viola with this gothic folk band. Playing in a local festival her musical talents were noticed by another young band called Contraband. Some meetings later and a night visit to a friend's house in search of this elusive and talented young woman lead to Contraband asking Mae to join them as lead singer. A Scottish folk rock legend was born.
Contraband featured Mae McKenna, George and Billy Jackson, John Martin, Peter Cairney and Alec Baird. Contraband's music was an exciting mixture of Irish and Scots traditional tunes, dramatic folk-rock arrangements of classical ballads and contemporary songs. They attacked their music with youthful vigour and energy. ''We loved playing together'' Mae recalls, ''We always used to play and sing on the way to gigs and coming back from them. Looking back I couldn't have wanted a better band to begin touring with''. Life on the road was an adventure and Contraband toured all over Scotland and England.
Contraband signed with Transatlantic records in 1973. They recorded their debut album ''Contraband'' in Chipping Norton studios in Oxfordshire. Released in May 1974 ''Contraband'' caught the young band in the cusp of their youthful musical prowess and joie de vivre. Mae sang and played violin, viola and piano and joined with George and Billy's multi instrumental talents, Peter's country tinged guitars, John's expert traditional fiddling and Alec's solid drumming to create a fresh new Celtic Rock sound. Contraband disbanded in 1975.
Mae McKenna began her solo career in 1975. She recorded three solo albums for Transatlantic Records "Mae McKenna" (1975), "Everything that Touches Me"(1976) and "Walk On Water"(1977). She also appeared on radio and TV both as a guest and featured performer
Her debut solo album "Mae McKenna" focussed on dramatic ballads with lavish orchestrations and was a promising if pensive debut. "Everything that touches me" was a tasteful, melodic soft rock album with strong American West Coast country/rock leanings, Mae's exquisite voice wrapped itself round songs by Andrew Gold, Richard Thompson, Jackson Browne and Anna McGarrigle. "Crying in the rain", the single received extensive radio play. "Walk on Water" continued the Transatlantic soft rock sound with songs by Kim Carnes, David Paich (Toto writer of the 70's AOR hit "Hold the Line") and the Motown standard "What becomes of the broken hearted".
The late 70s and early 80s saw Mae McKenna enter the world of the session singer. She became one of the UK's top session voices. She sang on albums by Scritti Polotti, Climie Fisher , Pete Townshend and virtually every Stock Aitken and Waterman hit including albums by Rick Astley, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bananarama.
All the while Mae McKenna the solo performer was busy writing new material. In 1987 she recorded some home demos of original songs with a Celtic theme. Virgin records new age label ''Venture'' liked what they heard and signed Mae to a solo recording deal. "Nightfallers" recorded in Dublin and London was a stunning mix of Celtic traditional styles contemporary folk/ blues and new age influences. "Nightfallers" was produced by Mae herself and featured 99% original material and it's 1988 release preceded the Celtic/New Age bandwagon that was to ensue over the next ten years.
1992 s "Mirage and Reality" covered similar ground and was released by Virgin in Japan. Mae toured Japan and she collaborated with William Jackson on "St Mungo A suite for Glasgow", and "Incholm". She toured with Peter Cairney opening for Steve Hackett (Ex Genesis) and then with Al Stewart. She also performed in the Glasgow folk festival and Mayfest with William Jackson while still doing session work.
1997 saw Mae writing new songs and contemplating recording a new solo album. Writing with John O' Kane a school friend from Airdrie the songs betrayed a Country/Bluegrass/Celtic sound. On her own initiative she made the journey to Nashville to record her latest solo album "Shore to Shore".
"Shore to Shore" is a new musical departure for Mae McKenna. It's a potent mix of traditional Celtic sounds and American folk and bluegrass strains. A completely acoustic album it features the talents of both Peter Cairney (Guitar), and Billy Jackson (Uilleann Pipes/Flute/TinWhistle/Harp/Keyboards) from Contraband with John Mock (guitar/whistle/bodhran), Bill Verdier(fiddle) Deborah Packard(vocals) from the Nashville Celtic band Isla, Randy Howard (fiddle/mandolin), Vince Farsetta (5 string banjo), backing singers Wes Hightower & Lee Satterfield the latter a Backup singer with Nancy Griffith and Dennis Crouch(double bass).
"I feel there is a close relationship between American mountain and Old Time music and Celtic music. I love acoustic music and I think shore to shore is a very honest album there are no gimmicks just good playing and good material and I am very pleased with the result''.
"Shore to Shore" represents a marking stone in Mae McKenna s life. It's her first album recorded in America and her first fully acoustic recording. Self produced and mostly self written with tasteful backings recalling shades of Ossian and Alison Krauss & Union Station. "Shore to Shore" crosses musical boundaries with subtlety and panache topped off with Mae McKenna's superb voice. "Shore to Shore" is a masterful return to form from one of the premier female vocalists in contemporary music.
Biography appears courtsey of John O'Regan